When it comes to the Eurovision Song Contest, Portugal has always marched to the sound of their own drum. While other nations rushed to embrace the latest Eurovision fashion of the day in the hunt for success, the Iberians have steadfastly retained their national language and identity in their entries. More often than not, this has led them to some less than impressive results. Until the country’s solitary victory in 2017, achieved with a song and artist completely out of step with contemporary pop music, they had never achieved a Top 5 result in 48 attempts!
This year the Portuguese have maintained their distinct flavour by selecting Conan Osiris and the unique Telemóveis. 30 year old Tiago Miranda is a singer-songwriter from Lisbon who has adopted his stage name from Japanese animation film, Future Boy Conan, and the Ancient Egyptian God of the Underworld, Osiris. It’s this kind of melding of worlds that is a trademark of Osiris’s music and he has remained true to himself as an artist with his intriguing entry to this years’ competition.
Conan has never fully explained the meaning of Telemóveis, the translation being "Mobile Phone" in English. He prefers the listener to interpret the song in a way that is meaningful to them. Some believe he is using the mobile phone as metaphor to make a connection with loved ones who have now departed. Others have suggested it is a reaction to the mobile phone obsessed culture that has developed.
For fans that have fallen in love with this song, it’s hailed as a piece of contemporary musical art. A mesmerising and mysterious soundscape with layers of complexity that take the listener on a journey of discovery through a variety of musical genres encompassing Portuguese Fado, Arabic, Far Eastern and Electronica. The beauty of Telemóveis is, somehow with all those disparate inspirations it avoids a confused musical point of view and instead delivers a concise and calculated contemporary composition.
For those who haven’t fallen under the spell of Telemóveis, the song is a jarring and incoherent piece, an over-the-top mixture of genres that simply don’t gel. Too avant-garde and esoteric for a competition where mass audience appeal is required for success. What some have lauded as intricate and artistic, others see as chaotic and pretentious.
Like all Eurovision entries a lot will depend on the presentation of the song on stage. The live performances at Festival Da Cancao, the Portuguese National Selection show, showed Conan at his challenging best. A mixture of extravagant costuming, dynamic interpretive dance and haunting vocals. Some felt it was a perfect interpretation of a song of this complexity, those less enthusiastic have described it as distracting, comical and the sort of amateur, self-obsessed performance piece you might encounter down the local Arts Centre.
Ultimately, Telemóveis is the type of entry that will divide people. This could be both its strength and its weakness in the competition. Like all art, the beauty or lack of it, will be in the eye of the beholder. This seems entirely appropriate for the song and the artist presenting it. Whatever unfolds in Tel Aviv, Conan and Telemóveis will be one of the most discussed songs not only in 2019, but in years to come.